Calgary Herald

Student engineers victims of oil crash


Shady Hashem travelled part way around the world to study as a mine engineer in Canada, at times paying triple the local tuition and working at a call centre to put himself through school, only to graduate in one of the worst job markets in recent memory.

“There are no jobs,” says Hashem, 28. “I talk to a lot of engineers, and the expected time to get a job is between six months and a year.”

He came to Calgary to look for work after finishing classes at Halifax’s Dalhousie University in December, hoping to find something in Alberta’s oilsands with his co-op work experience at Syncrude last summer. But postings are slim, and he hasn’t heard anything back after applying for 50 or so jobs in recent weeks.

“I’m applying everywhere but I haven’t heard back from anybody, yet, not even an email that says: ‘Sorry, this position has been filled,’ ” said Hashem. “That’s very frustratin­g.”

Originally from Egypt but now a permanent resident of Canada, Hashem is one of many recent engineerin­g grads who are struggling to find work as the oil-and-gas industry continues to slash jobs in the aftermath of the global oil price plunge.

Those still in school looking for work experience also face a daunting market as summer approaches.

Colleen Bangs, manager of career services at the University of Calgary, says only about a third of the 659 engineerin­g students at the school have found placements for their year-long internship­s as companies cut back on campus recruitmen­t.

“Something I’ve noticed, particular­ly in this last semester, is that there’s a bit of an impending feeling of doom,” said Bangs.

That’s in stark contrast to the situation just a couple years ago, when the industry was booming.

“It was a very different climate. Employers were racing to make offers,” said Bangs. “Whereas now it’s a lot slower.”

Several companies are cutting back on student hirings. Suncor says it’s reduced hiring compared with recent years without giving specifics, while Cenovus Energy says it isn’t hiring any students.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.

At the University of Alberta, close to 70 per cent of the 1,300 students looking for four-month co-op placements have found them, said assistant professor Tim Joseph at the university’s school of mining and petroleum engineerin­g.

He said employers still have short-term hiring needs — and while the co-op students are paid a healthy salary, ranging from about $3,000 to more than $6,000 a month at times, companies aren’t on the hook for senior-level salaries, benefits or other long-term obligation­s.

Joseph said he’s hoping to get more than 80 per cent of students in co-ops this summer, compared with a peak of 96 per cent in the boom years. Students who can’t find placements risk losing their spot in the co-op program, and graduating without crucial work experience.

But even those graduating with experience are struggling, said Joseph, as they look for full-time jobs. He said only about 20 per cent of the graduating class of 850 had a job lined up.

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Shady Hashem

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